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Dealing With High Cholesterol During Pregnancy

4 min read

During pregnancy, your health is very important for both you and for the proper development of the baby. Issues like elevated cholesterol levels can be of concern. High cholesterol can be easily managed with medicines in non-pregnant women but when you are pregnant it can be harder to manage the same. It is quite normal for the cholesterol levels to increase at certain point during pregnancy even if you have been maintaining normal cholesterol levels during the pre-pregnancy period. On the other hand, for women who have already been battling with high cholesterol before getting-pregnant, the cholesterol levels can climb significantly higher during pregnancy. But the good news is that there are different ways to manage the cholesterol levels throughout pregnancy and if they are followed properly, the elevated cholesterol levels will not affect the health of both the mother and the baby.
Cholesterol test

Causes of High Cholesterol Levels During Pregnancy

As pregnant women undergoe a lot of hormonal changes during pregnancy, the cholesterol levels tend to rise from the first trimester itself and peaks during the third trimester. There is no need to panic as in most cases the levels get back to normal in couple of months post-delivery. Increased cholesterol levels is purely body’s mechanism to aid healthy pregnancy. An increased cholesterol level has a significant role in the production and proper functioning of steroid hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are vital for carrying a pregnancy to term. Likewise, the developing fetus utilizes cholesterol at a higher rate for the healthy brain, limb and cellular development. It is also important in the production of healthy breast milk.

What Is The Normal Cholesterol Level During Pregnancy?

To prevent the risk of heart disease, normally the cholesterol levels should be between 120-190mg/dl. However, during pregnancy, it is quite normal that the cholesterol levels increase by 25 % to 50%. It will usually peak during the third trimester. Therefore 200 to 239mg/dl is considered as borderline high and above 240 is considered as high during pregnancy. However, there is nothing to worry as high cholesterol level is not considered as a significant issue and is not treated unless a woman possesses an extreme cardiovascular condition or if the reading shows an increased risk of health issues that hinders with the normal progression of pregnancy. Fortunately, during pregnancy if the cholesterol level increases, it is the HDL (good cholesterol) that shows an increase more than the LDL (bad cholesterol).

How Does High Cholesterol Level Affect Pregnancy?
  • High cholesterol levels in pregnant women increases the chances of pregnancy-induced hypertension, which is a potentially dangerous condition that can trigger preterm birth
  • If the cholesterol level increases tremendously (above 330mg/dl), the baby has an increased risk of facing high cholesterol issues later in its life
How Do Low Cholesterol Levels Affect Pregnancy?

If high cholesterol levels are harmful, low cholesterol levels can also have some side effects on the developing baby. Some of the risk of low cholesterol are:

  • Women, who have low cholesterol before getting pregnant and in the course of pregnancy may have an increased risk of premature labor and other pregnancy-related issues
  • The optimum cholesterol level is crucial for the development of a healthy placenta. Insufficient cholesterol in the mother’s body may inhibit the normal fetal development, leading to low birth weight and other developmental issues
  • It can also affect the brain development of the baby

Cholesterol during pregnancy

How To Control High Cholesterol During Pregnancy?

As already mentioned, generally, no medicines are prescribed to bring down the cholesterol level during pregnancy. Taking medicines to bring down the cholesterol levels can sometime bring it below the optimum level. Therefore, during pregnancy, medicines are prescribed only when necessary and have no risk on both the mother and child.
As explained above, low cholesterol levels can bring about several issues for the developing child. Likewise, cholesterol levels which are quite high can be harmful for the mother too making her susceptible to heart diseases or stroke. Although moderate high levels of cholesterol during pregnancy are not harmful for both the mother and the baby, it is necessary to keep the cholesterol levels from spiking.
Exercise and diet are key to help keep high cholesterol levels under control during pregnancy. Here are few steps to manage high cholesterol during pregnancy:

  • Consult a nutritional expert: It is necessary to have a balanced diet during pregnancy. It is important to have food that do not increase cholesterol levels and at the same time your calorie intake is not compromised. A nutritional expert who is specialized in pregnancy diet can chart a diet plan that helps you to manage the high cholesterol levels during pregnancy
  • Find healthy sources of fat: High cholesterol level doesn’t mean that you have to stop the intake of fats. You have to meet the ‘fat’ demands of the body as it is necessary for the health of the baby. Just stick on to healthy sources like olive oil, avocados, and nuts or other healthy monounsaturated fats
  • A big NO to junk foods: Never ever eat junk food during pregnancy as they are rich in saturated fats which can further elevate the cholesterol levels. Fried and processed food should be completely avoided along with carbonated beverages and beverages having caffeine in them
  • Increase the intake of fiber: Increase the intake of fiber rich food. Both soluble and insoluble fiber in fruits and vegetables can help to control high cholesterol level to a great extent. Therefore, include fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber. Also including whole grains and oatmeal in your daily menu can help keeping cholesterol levels under check during pregnancy
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise is necessary during pregnancy especially if you have a risk of high cholesterol. But it is important that before starting a regimen, discuss it with the doctor. Most of the non-intensive workout regimen like walking and yoga will help in controlling high cholesterol during pregnancy. Meditation is also beneficial in controlling high cholesterol levels during pregnancy

It is always best to regularly discuss any lifestyle or diet changes with your doctor or dietitian. This will help your doctor to navigate you through the gestation period without significant issues.

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